Earlier this summer, I read an interview with Paul McCartney in a copy of Rolling Stone magazine that somebody had left on a table in the Lufthansa lounge.
It was about how Sir Paul, at age 75, is still mastering a rigorous international tour schedule with his band in sold-out arenas - and clearly enjoying it.
One passage, in particular, caught my attention.
Part of McCartney’s pre-stage daytime “ritual” in Japan and European countries outside the UK, he explained, is to have “a good 20-to-30–minute session with a translator, trying to learn some local phrases so I can be a bit more one-on-one.”
Let that sink in. This from one of the most successful composers and performers of all time, who also happens to be a savvy business man and a self-made billionaire to boot.
Speaking of someone who could just let the music or the money do the talking. Or the translators. And don’t we have smartphone apps for that now anyway, like iTranslate?
So why does he even bother? If you are, like myself, a fan of the Beatles and Paul McCartney or successful business leader (or both), I think you may know the answer.
It’s about going the extra mile, about authenticity and the importance of making a genuine, continuous effort to build rapport and trust.
Building trust through attention to details
Sir Paul doesn’t take the trust of his fans for granted. He knows that attention to details goes a long way towards earning and honoring it. Building trust with fans - or customers - and business partners requires putting in the work at each new encounter.
When I read the interview, I couldn’t help wondering: Does Paul McCartney’s language learning routine have anything to do with the formative time that the Beatles spent in Hamburg, Germany?
Having worked in and with Germany throughout my own career since the 1980s, one of the first things I learned about doing business with Germans is this: when it comes to building trust, understanding and speaking their language is a very big deal.
This is even more true for France and the French language. Google translation and smartphone apps have not changed that. After our company acquired a business in France, our French counterparts expressed their appreciation that I am making an effort to learn their language, as I’ve been taking French lessons since.
Basic lip service by dropping a “bonjour” here or “au revoir” there is not enough, I think. The effort to connect across cultural boundaries has to be sincere.
That’s because whether we meet in Stuttgart, San Francisco or Shanghai - actions still speak louder than the words that we can pick up in a one-on-one with our language tutor.
People value what we do for them and with them more than what we say to them.
As gifted as he is as a communicator, nobody seems to know that better than Paul McCartney. Each time he joins his band on stage, he can be counted on to deliver the goods.
Other top-billed acts with a far less awe-inspiring track record often just phone it in. Sir Paul is still putting in the work, rocking his heart out for a solid three hours per concert, plus making the extra effort to be “a bit more one-on-one” afterward.
Brands are built on trust
Brands don’t get built just on products or performance. They are built on trust. Which brings me back to my own line of work. We buy businesses, a total of 29 so far during my tenure as CFO over a dozen years at Pro Mach.
It may not be as glamorous, but it involves a lot of global touring, too. And just like in Rock’n Roll, on the M&A stage, you cannot phone it in, or show up and play air guitar. People will see right through it.
What does this mean in practical terms? Here’s an example: When we acquire a new business, we often enter into a new lease for its facilities at the same time. This way, we can confidently stand up in front of employees at the announcement of the transaction and tell them that we also signed a long term lease, giving them confidence in our words that their jobs are not going away.
Often we can also tell them that we are investing in the business, either by purchasing new machinery and equipment or in some cases in a new facility. Again - actions speak louder than words.
But you can't do it just to "score points." You have to mean it and believe in what you do and put in the effort.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Just ask Sir Paul.